TIRANA, Albania -- Thousands of Albanian opposition supporters protested anew in the capital Tirana Friday, calling for the prime minister’s resignation for alleged corruption and mishandling of the small Balkan nation’s economy.
Demonstrators gathered in front of the main government building in pouring rain, chanting slogans and bearing banners. They were addressed by Sali Berisha, a former president and prime minister who leads the center-right Democratic Party, and former president Ilir Meta, who leads the left-wing Freedom Party.
The opposition leaders renewed calls for Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama to step down.
Berisha exhorted protesters to “Join us in this revolution to throw down this criminal organization (the government) and save Albania and its citizens."
The protest ended peacefully.
It was the fourth anti-government rally in a month. The opposition accuses Rama and his Cabinet of alleged corruption, links to organized crime and poor economic policies. They also blame Rama for the exodus of young Albanians seeking jobs in Western European countries.
The government denies that, arguing it has kept inflation low compared to elsewhere in Europe, raised the minimum salary and subsidized electricity bills for families and small businesses.
The opposition also has accused Rama of involvement in the alleged bribery and preferential treatment of a former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official who has been indicted in the United States.
Speaking in Parliament Thursday, Rama refused to step down saying the opposition wanted "to politically exploit a legal process in the U.S. that has no links at all to Albania, the government or me personally.“
The opposition claims that Rama corrupted Charles McGonigal, who is accused in the United States of hiding from the FBI key details of a 2017 trip to Albania with a former Albanian intelligence official alleged to have given him at least $225,000.
McGonigal met with Rama several times and allegedly urged caution in awarding oil field drilling licenses in the country to Russian front companies.
Rama has acknowledged meeting with McGonigal but denies allegations of giving him money or preferential treatment.
Also on Friday an appeals court is judging who should lead the divided main opposition Democrats — Berisha or his predecessor Lulzim Basha.
The party has been plagued by infighting after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in 2021 barred Berisha and his close relatives from entering the U.S. for “corrupt acts that undermined democracy” during his 2005-2013 tenure as prime minister. Britain did the same last year. ___ Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini